Sister Rosetta Tharpe: Godmother of Rock and Roll

By Teresa Jenkins,  Charlotte County Dems Chair.

February is Black History Month, an important time to remember that Black History IS American History. It is due time to pay tribute to the generations of African Americans who tirelessly struggled through adversity to achieve full citizenship in America.

Yet, so many contributions of Black people to this country have been underappreciated. This is particularly true for Black women and girls.

During this Black History month, I would like to introduce you to a true trailblazer. Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a pioneer on the electric guitar who influenced both Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry. She played with Duke Ellington and other top musicians. Gospel music was her foundation, yet she wasn’t confined to any one musical style. Because of that, she is often referred to as the “Godmother of Rock and Roll.” In 2018, Sister Tharpe was inducted posthumously to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which tells her story like this:

In the fall of 1938, when she stepped out onto the storied stage of the Cotton Club, Rosetta Tharpe did what no performer sprung from the rich musical traditions of black Pentecostalism had ever previously dared, or perhaps even imagined. She presented the music of her church to a predominantly white audience in search of Saturday-night diversion, not Sunday-morning deliverance.

When folks talk about rock and roll, Tharpe’s name is typically absent. When people debate who were some of the greatest guitarists of all time, Tharpe is overlooked. I hope that this article will begin to change that. Sister Tharpe was a uniquely talented Black woman who made significant contributions to the culture of this country. Though her work is largely forgotten, it is ripe for discovery.

Watch a 15 minute BBC documentary about Sister Rosetta Tharpe on YouTube by clicking here: